The Boy in Striped Pyjamas | A misleading experience

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas was amongst the simplest and beautiful books I ever read, that turned out to be the most misleading one after some research. There are controversial books like the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and others that get banned and whatnot because the author apparently attempts an attack on something that powerful people believe is not meant to be attacked. This one is not such a controversy. Here, I cannot be sure if the author meant to invoke such mixed reactions from the readers; the intentions could have been pure but it happened anyways.

Looking at it objectively, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is a beautiful story of little Bruno, a 9 year old boy who has to move from Berlin to ‘out-with’ against his strong disposition to stay at their five-floored house. Some man he calls ‘Fury’ is manipulating their lives in ways that he doesn’t appreciate. He has to manoeuvre through some rather boring challenges that life throws at him to make his life interesting. It’s all very innocent and admirable.

It needn’t be said out loud that Bruno had to move to Auschwitz on the orders of Hitler. More like, his father had to move there and his family- his wife, daughter (Gretel) and son (Bruno) had to tag along. But throughout the book, the story unravels from the point of view of Bruno and hence is a naive interpretation of everything that transpired at Auschwitz.

(Spoiler ahead)

The young lad who is innocent but curious and adventurous finds himself entangled in the proceedings of Auschwitz in his own unique way. He has no idea what is actually happening there and that it is his father who is orchestrating the horror. Eventually, curiosity kills the cat and we’re left feeling terrible for the young lad who was as promising as a boy his age gets.

The technique of the story is flawless. Throughout the book, John Boyne builds Bruno’s character and makes him a very promising one in the eyes of the reader. His thoughts and ideas are disciplined, inspired and adorable. We naturally root for him and look forward to seeing what happens of him and how he plays a role in bringing out the final message. But we do not expect the ending. It comes as a surprise and not a pleasant one at that. The unexpected turn of events for Bruno makes the book a really impactful one. It was even adopted into a movie because of the impact it has on the mind of a reader/viewer.

The boy in striped pyjamas review
A still from the movie

While The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is objectively a great book, the realization dawns late that it is not exactly an appropriate way to tell the story being said. Bruno is the son of a character who is based on Hitler’s right hand man, Rudolf Franz. He was the Commandant who carried out all the activities of Auschwitz concentration camp. Hitler himself promoted him to the said rank, even in the book. Considering Bruno’s such close proximity to Hitler and the German military of the time, there are multiple loopholes one can find.

Let’s attempt to sum it up. Firstly, there was no chance that being the son of the Commandant himself, Bruno grew up with no idea about everything that was happening. So much innocence, to the extent of not knowing ‘who Jews are’ and mispronouncing ‘fuhrer’ and Auschwitz is completely misleading. There have been reports that stated that Hitler trained children as early as 6 years old to learn his ideals – there is no way the Commandant’s son was left out of that.

Secondly, ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ is actually Bruno’s little friend beyond the fence of Auschwitz whom he secretly befriends. His name is Shmuel and he is always clad in striped pyjamas. Bruno and Shmuel become good friends and spend hours through days talking to each other and sharing information. And despite Shmuel sharing so much, Bruno doesn’t understand what’s happening – he doesn’t even manage to ask the right questions.

It was impossible for Shmuel to be spending such time with Bruno, given the facts. The camp was always heavily guarded and the inhabitants brutally oppressed; children most of all. No child could ever have gotten past the guards to be spending time with a ‘friend’ near the fence, less so the Commandant’s son.

Even if the above loopholes can be ignored for the sake of the storyline, what cannot be ignored is that the book invokes sympathy for the perpetuator of the Auschwitz horror. It is sad indeed that Bruno meets a tragic end. But that happens in a setup that his father designed where 1.1 million people (report) died in the exact same way as Bruno did. They got the worst of mankind’s history at the concentration camp. There is really no sympathy or even consideration for them in the book, it’s all about Bruno here.

It can be argued that the book is after all a work of fiction. But a whole lot of influence is derived from fiction in this world. When you’re telling a story that is rooted in history and is arguably the gravest part of history, I do not believe that it is okay to facilitate anything that can be misleading, or unjust to the victims. Not many readers are capable of taking the book for just what it is – a work of fiction. For most, it leads to formation of beliefs and assumptions that are unfair from factual standpoint. I fell prey to it myself before I did some digging on the internet after completing the book.

So The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is a strange, misleading experience for me. I liked the book, but I’ll never recommend it to anyone ever. Making the perpetuator’s son a hero and eventually the victim to tell a grave story is not the right approach and it works poorly in acknowledging the actual victims.

(My opinion has been formed on the basis of some general research on the internet that anyone can do. I am in no way an expert on the historic event mentioned. If any expert feels I’m not authorized to speak of this, I’ll be okay with taking the article down. This is just personal opinion.)

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